Next week marks number 4... the 4th time I have begun training for an Ironman, which will culminate on November 24th with Ironman Arizona. This time is even more unique as we have 6 of us on Team Aspire that will toe the start line in Tempe, followed by 10-17 hours of one of the largest physical and emotional roller coasters our bodies can undertake. The goal for all 6 of us will be the bliss of hearing Mike Riley say our names, followed by “you are an Ironman!”
Ironman has given me some amazing gifts over the years, but none more than what it has done for my day to day life. Ironman taught me that in order to succeed on race day I need organization. It also taught me that as a husband and business owner, if I ever wanted to complete one again, I need great time management and prioritization in order to not hinder my relationship or take away from my work.
You can’t be unorganized and think you’re going to have a successful training season or race day. Ironman requires organization from scheduling out your workouts, prepping your workouts, day to day nutrition, and following a race strategy including pacing, hydration, and nutrition.
Before completing my first Ironman, I was slightly a mess. Although I am still continually trying to perfect my daily organization, this is a continual process that Ironman has brought (forced) into my life. There is nothing worse than waking up early for a long ride and realizing you have no nutrition and a flat tire. I now know that I need to prep for my sessions ahead of time in order to put myself in the best position for success. This includes keeping my equipment continually on point, keeping stock of my nutrition and hydration, and ensuring my day is scheduled properly to do everything I need do - inside and outside of Ironman training.
The biggest organization is scheduling my week. Every Sunday when I look at my week, I schedule out everything I can in order to have my most successful week. Sure, things will always come up and fires will need to be put out. But, if you don’t have an ideal week set in place from the beginning, your chances of success are going to be slim to none. This schedule will also allow me to see what mornings I need to get up earlier than normal to train, where I need to fit an evening session, or if anything needs to be shortened or skipped. Remember this isn’t just about scheduling your training sessions, but also ensuring all of your responsibilities in life are also being taken care of. The top of your priorities (see below) when creating your weekly schedule is always the most important obligations - family, work, then training.
There are only 24 hours in the day and trust me, you don’t need more of them, you just need to manage them better. We all have areas in which we can be more efficient, get rid of wasted time, and gain as much time as we can. It’s about what we do with our time versus needing more of it.
I hate it when people tell me they don’t have time to train for an Ironman. We all have the time. Sure, you might not have the 20 hours per week it takes to train like a professional, but you do have time for the 8-10 hour a week minimalist training program. You just need to find where you can grab it from.
One of the best ways to determine if you are managing your time best is to take note of everything you do throughout the way. Write down what time you wake up, spend getting ready for work, time spent eating breakfast, etc. Be as detailed as possible. Make sure to include time spent on social media, watching TV, and even driving. After a couple of days have been written down, begin to analyze. Where can you be more efficient? Cut down on things that aren’t helping you reach you goals? Can you multi-task such as doing home chores while cooking? I tend to manage my day in 15-30 minutes increments. Some tasks last shorter and others for longer, but these blocks keep me constantly pointing towards my goals. Short blocks keep my mind sharp, productivity high, and allow me to fit in a great balance of work, training, and pleasure.
Ironman is neither a full time or part time job. It is a hobby that makes us no money and can leave your significant others, friends, and family resentful if you don’t prioritize yourself properly.
Before picking a race, you need to ensure all the controllable factors are considered, including family and work obligations. Pick a race that your family can join you on and include them in the journey as much as possible. The people around you need to be more important than your training and if you lose sight of that, this Ironman may be your last. One of my favorite memories of my first Ironman training was doing a long ride one way to meet my wife for brunch 50 miles up the coast. I left early, rode solo to meet her, and we drove home together after an awesome Sunday morning together.
After picking a race, begin breaking down any other obligations you have. Move training around them and see where you can make up time (see time management). Understand and be willing to sacrifice skipping, shortening, or under performing in sessions because of more important obligations. Don’t miss family vacations or trips with friends because you want to be an Ironman. Find a way to work them in by either skipping a weekend of training and using that as a rest weekend or train on trips early before others wake up.
This also goes the other way around. You also need to prioritize your training sessions. Going out late at night, drinking too much, or eating like shit will all hinder your training. I’m not saying don’t partake in fun, but as my swim coach told us in high school, “if you’re going to be a man (or woman) at night, you’ve got to be a man (or woman) in the morning.” If my wife wants to go out late with friends, I will do my best to reach a good compromise. We will go out, I will have a few drinks mixed in with waters to stay hydrated and reach a compromise on a time to leave.
Finally, day to day, don’t let training for an Ironman make you soft in other aspects of your life. Get your shit done in and out of the gym. Don’t slack off at work because you’re tired, skip your stretching because you’d rather lay on the couch, or not do your household chores because your feet hurt. Master your morning and get things done before everyone else wakes up. Whenever I think I am going to push a training session on the weekend until the afternoon it just doesn’t happen. Get it done early and out of the way!
It doesn’t take a huge life change to become an Ironman, but completing one can have some amazing life changes on you. Learn how to be better organized, manage your time better, and prioritize your life. Completing an Ironman was always a dream for me and now that number 4 is on the horizon, I am more thankful for what Ironman has given me in life than what it feels like to just cross the finish line. Triathlon can be a selfish sport if you allow it. Instead, allow it to make you a better human in all aspects of life.
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.